“For everyone Kashmir is their own personal story.”
By Saima Shakeel
A new Kashmir travelogue hitting the bookstands on April 17 is telling another personal history with a soulful narration that reflects the three-decade-old existential anguish of a community.
Actor Manav Kaul’s ‘Rooh’ is a corresponding-chronicle of a roaming pilgrim finding penance in his homeland’s mesmeric beauty and his meditative moorings for his lost times in Kashmir.
Many hail Kaul’s book as a “deeply intimate and refreshing” voice when Kashmir is seen or heard from the “biased” literary and televised lenses.
The novel, originally written in Hindi, is published by Penguin Random House India. The book is pristine, beautiful, raw and engaging attempt by Kaul who’s able to capture “the essence of its being like a reverie”.
In this stream-of-consciousness novel, the protagonist, Manav, makes a physical and metaphorical trip to his homeland and relives the past as a part of the present.
Plot thickens when Rooh tells Manav in a bar in New York that he ought to go to back home to the hills in Kashmir. He’s suddenly thrown into the loop of his past: a blue door, white walls, and a house at a cul-de-sac.
Rooh emerges as a deeply touching story of tender but broken people he meets along this journey.
“It’s an imaginary world in which a writer sees himself travel,” Kaul writes in the book. “The main journey is inwards, of a traveller who is struggling to collect the lived portraits of his childhood.”
Born in Baramulla, on 19 December 1976, Manav moved to Madhya Pradesh with his family in early nineties when his tribe of Kashmiri Pandits migrated from the valley due to violent turmoil.
Over the years, Manav became an admired actor with powerful performances in films like “Tumhari Sulu”, “Jolly LLB 2”, “Thappad” and Netflix anthology “Ajeeb Daastaans”.
In actor-director Sugandha Garg’s Kashmir, Kaul played a middle-aged man who sits in a stark white, oft-dissolving room to come face to face with his deceased father who had to leave Kashmir with his family and couldn’t go back for a visit before passing on.
Most of Kaul’s books capture this existential anguish in depth and detail. His “Theek Tumhare Peeche” (Right Behind You) and “Prem Kabootar” (Love Pigeon) have been dominating the Neilson bestseller list.
In ‘Rooh’, Kaul writes about his Cherrapunji sojourn—during pandemic lockdown—when longing for his roots got resuscitated.
“When we go far away, a kind of wait begins,” he writes in a deeply moving monologue. “We are looking for something that we can’t find in the place we had been living in. We have to leave our homes to touch the old roots on which this tree stands. We are not trees, though we can wander.”
When Kashmir had been left behind, Kaul says, he would go back there in his dreams each night. In those dreams, he would take all his recently made friends along too.
“But when I woke up in the morning, I would find myself crying,” he writes. “Our colony in Khwaja Bagh, Baramulla, was deep within me. Mother would ask, “Why do you cry every morning when you wake up?” I would lie to her and say, “Nightmares.” Father was Kashmiri. Whenever I would go to him to talk about my nightmares, I would end up blurting out only one question, ‘When will we go back to Kashmir?’ ”
Before ‘Rooh’, it was late actor Irrfan Khan’s ‘Roohdaar’ character in Haider movie that had deeply moved Kaul. Both the characters, many reckon, chronicle Kashmir story from a deeply personal perspective.
“When actor Irrfan Khan said ‘Roohdaar’ in Haider, it gave me goosebumps,” Kaul recalls his reaction about the controversial character drawing mixed responses back in the day. “‘Rooh’ follows the same trajectory with a rattling personal effect.”
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